The Art of Selling

And it is truly an art. Some people have the talent and drive, and some people don’t. But just like art, even if you don’t have the talent and drive to become a master in the field, you can pick up enough technique to be the equivalent of a competent draftsman.

The first thing to remember is: you can’t make people buy anything, and you wouldn’t want to try, because you’d turn into a used-car salesman, which is just ugly. All you can do is to get their attention, make contact with them, and get the item into their hands. After that, it’s all up to them. Let the items sell themselves.

Have (or fake) a good attitude. I can’t emphasize this enough. You don’t have to be perky, genki, or a cheerleader if you’re not by nature (although that sort of personality tends to be good at selling). But you need to be pleasant. Talk to the people who come to your table. Just a simple “Hi! How’s your con going?” is enough to establish that preliminary contact. Don’t ignore someone looking at your work and keep talking to your friend without at least making eye contact and nodding at the shopper with a quick smile. It lets them know that you know they’re there, and that you’re available if they have questions. It also deters shoplifters, because they know you’re alert and paying attention to what they’re doing.

An online friend of mine once told me how an artist at a con she attended lost a sale to her. She asked what the prices of the prints on the table were, and the artist huffed, grabbed the price sign, and shoved it at her. My friend could tell it was probably because the artist was exasperated at people not reading the sign, but the artist’s attitude was enough to turn her off the idea of buying any of the prints. She didn’t want to remember how the artist acted every time she looked at the art.

Recently I bought a print from an artist who sat back, a few feet away from the table, arms crossed over her chest, looking like she didn’t want to be there. Her prints were selling themselves, but that’s because they had to: she wasn’t encouraging sales in any way. Imagine how many more she might have sold if she’d sat at the table, looked approachable, and talked to potential buyers.

Obviously, there will be times when you’re cranky, hungry, or just broke up with your significant other and don’t feel like being pleasant to everyone who comes by and asks the same question for the 3700th time. A good way to handle that is to say something like “Sorry – I’m working on four hours sleep,” “I think I’m coming down with con crud,” or “I’m totally out of it today.” People are sympathetic when they know the reason for your attitude, and hostile when they don’t.

I can tell you from years of retail and selling tickets: people don’t read signs. You can print your prices on a florescent yellow piece of paper in 72-point font and staple it to your forehead and people will still somehow overlook it and ask you how much your things cost. Or they ask about prices as an opening gambit in conversation, or they’re trying to fish and see if you’d be open to a bit of bargaining.

You’ll want a sign on your table anyway, for the few people who read them, or for the inevitable time when someone asks your prices just as your mouth is full of lunch. It’s handy to wave at them in that case. But even though 90% of the shoppers miss your sign, don’t act annoyed. Think of it as an opportunity to make contact with someone. If someone likes your stuff enough to want to know the prices, you’re halfway to a sale.

What about when someone says they don’t have any money, or that they’re just looking and not buying? Treat them like you’d treat any other potential customer. They may not have money, but their friends still have money. Or they may be attending the convention with their mother, and will drag her over and beg for a picture (I get really good sales that way – parents think that art is a good thing for their kids to have, it seems, and tend to buy several pictures at a time). If they like your stuff, they may remember you and come find you first next year: I’ve had a number of people tell me that they found my table after they ran out of money the previous year, and tracked me down first this year in order to buy things.

A small way to encourage sales is to give people incentives or deals for buying. Free candy with every purchase is a possibility. Deals of various sorts also work quite well. If someone is buying several items from you, offer to knock 10% or so off their price. Sometimes they’ll add another item or two, and they’ll recommend you to their friends. Or add a free item for every $X purchased. People love free stuff. Try offering a multiple-item special like 1 for $8 and 3 for $20.

At one convention, an artist got a larger chunk of my money than I intended because the deal was so good: one print for $18, two for $30, but three for only $35. I showed up to buy one particular print, but I couldn’t resist that deal and spent $17 more at the table.

If the convention you are at allows it, try offering a raffle. Sell tickets for a small amount of money – $1 or so – for the chance to win a commission, or a poster, or a selection of items from your table. Not all conventions allow raffles, because they are prohibited by local gambling laws, so check to make sure raffles are allowed before planning one. If you’d really like a raffle, you’re usually good if you offer a raffle entry with every purchase: since the consumer is receiving a product for their money, it doesn’t count as gambling. But do check local laws first!

Sell misprints for cheap. You’d be surprised at how many people are willing to put $1 or $2 down on a picture that’s the wrong color or cropped in the wrong place. You can recoup some of your paper and ink expenses that way, from people who otherwise wouldn’t buy anything because they don’t have much money left.

If you have items that feel good in the hand, like keychains, comics, or knitted items, pick one up and hand it to a customer while talking about it. Most of the time they’ll look at it and hand it back, but if they’re on the edge of a decision it can tilt the decision in favor of purchase. Instead of telling a customer about our comics, my writer hands it to them and says, “The back will tell you everything you need to know!” or she’ll hand a keychain over, saying, “Cutest keychains at the con! See for yourself!”

If someone is dithering about a purchase and you think it might be due to concern over the amount of money, draw their attention to less-expensive items. Better a smaller purchase than no purchase at all.

Because kids often come to anime conventions with their parents, many of whom aren’t into anime, consider making an item or two that appeals to non-anime fans. As the long-suffering parent stands by while their kid squees at your anime-related stuff, you can draw their attention to the items they may like. For example, my writer published her memoirs of growing up on a commune in rural India. This tends not to appeal to your average anime fan, but we sell a few copies every convention, mostly to parents who are thankful that there’s something they can be interested in. So if you’re a painter, try doing one or two non-anime pictures. If you make jewelry, have a couple of conventional pieces. If you knit, a plain scarf or hat might appeal to someone who doesn’t want to wear Hogwarts colors, and so on.

I mentioned this earlier, in the list of items to bring to a convention, but I think it’s worth putting here: bring clear plastic bags to put your items in when you sell them. Shoppers are grateful that they don’t have to hold the item itself, and since the bag is clear, other people see the item in it and ask where they bought it. If you sell more than one print to someone and put them in the same bag, turn one print around so that a print shows through each side of the bag. The story above where I bought three prints when I intended to buy one? I discovered that print in the first place when I spotted someone carrying it in a clear plastic bag forty feet away, and it was so compelling I dispatched a minion to hunt down the artist selling it and tell me where it was. That artist made $35 simply because he used a clear plastic bag.

Also, while you’re at the con ask other artists how they’re doing. You’ll figure out that way whether your sales are slow because everybody’s sales are slow, because you’re stuck in a dead area, or if you’re not doing enough to sell your stuff. Or you’ll find out that you’re doing a better job than anyone else. You may also pick up tips from the other artists, or, heck, make friends with them.

Unless you desperately need to get away from the table, want to hit the dealers’ room, or are speaking on a panel at the convention, stay at your table. Sales are almost always better when the artist who produced the work is sitting right there.

Be prepared for slow times at the con. I usually find that Saturday afternoon is slow. I think this is because half the people at the con are in panels, and Saturday is the biggest cosplay day. Many cosplayers don’t have pockets, don’t want to carry stuff they’ve bought around the con, or are constantly stopped by photographers, so they don’t shop while in costume. Once you figure out what times are typically slow at the con you’re at, you can schedule that time to hit the dealers’ room, attend panels, grab lunch, check your stuff in the art show, or give art lessons and portfolio critiques.

If you can stay late in the evenings, do so. After the dealers’ room closes, after the final panels let out, and after the cosplay competition finishes, there’s usually a rush of people with money burning a hole in their pockets and nowhere else to spend it. Saturday nights are especially good for this, as the Saturday-only congoers want to stretch their con experience out as long as possible, and linger in the artist alley.

Sunday afternoon usually sees a minor rush, too, if your travel arrangements allow you to stay that long. If you need to check out early, drove a car to the con, and the hotel has valet parking, it’s worth asking the hotel if you can pack your car after checking out Sunday morning and put it into valet until you leave. The $12-25 it cost can be made up by one or two extra sales from staying late.

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